We had stayed at East Dunmore, south of Waterford, Southern Ireland on Saurday night, and were planning some time at Waterford Crystal, and the city centre before catching the 9.30pm Ferry from Rosslare. Heading for Waterford, we saw a signpost for a "Christian Fellowship", and checking the time, about 10.30 am thought there may be an opportunity to meet with some local Christians. We anticipated perhaps a Charismatic House Fellowship, but found something very different.
The cars in the car park gave us an initial clue to the priorities of this group, all of which were pretty old, one being a Classic Car, and the others fast on their way to becoming so. I guess there is possibly a good mechanic among their number.
The notice board invited us to join a group of Amish- Mennonite Christians, who according to their literature have twelve such groups worldwide. In addition to their distinctive "Plain dress" they practice non-resistance, refrain from lawsuits, military service and racial discrimination, we learned.
A smiling American young woman met us at the door and welcomed us to the service in progress. She was wearing a white triangular headscarf, as were all the women and girls, and a calf-length hand-made dress. It had a plain circular neck, long sleeves and was completely without decoration. With this she wore a cardigan and black leather shoes. With few exceptions the dresses were in shades of blue, mauve or grey. Dressed in trousers and a fleece, I felt decidedly out of place but joined the Ladies Bible Study group about to start.
As for the men, my husband fitted in a little better, as they all had beards, but worn around the chin like the strap of a Grenadier Guard's busby. There were no moustaches and those who had hair wore it with a middle parting. The clothes for the men consisted of black suits, fastened with hooks and eyes rather than buttons and pristine white shirts. The boys were similarly dressed in black and white.
Following the segregated study groups, we returned to the main hall of the recently built Church, for a fairly lengthy sermon, after which the members were free to add comments from their own experience. I'm sure our ministers would welcome this! A time of worship had already taken place at the beginning of the service, with or without singing I wasn't sure. There was no evidence of an organ, though there was music in the back of a pew Bible. It reminded me of early Brethren Church worship.
The sermon was in fact quite memorable and concerned Jesus' question to Peter "What is that to you", when Peter wanted to know about John's future. I suppose " Mind your own business" would be a modern equivalent". The crux was that we were to concern ourselves with fulfilling our own calling, in Peter's case to "Feed my sheep", not what others may or may not be doing! What a lot of energy that would save!
The Building, like the clothes was equally simple and unadorned, the wooden roof being beautifully crafted. We later learned that this Community, like the famous Amish communities of America, had their own Woodwork shop, and some American members had come to assist in its' renovation. They owned a local shop and Petrol Station where they sold home-made bread and cakes. The women sold their bread and cakes at the market in Waterford and also made the beautiful quilts for which they are known.
All the members had employment directly within the Community, and none claimed benefits, such as unemployment. I found this reminiscent of the early Church in Acts 2. The children were educated within the Church building four in the particular class I saw. Rosie showed me the desk with her name on it, and confidently informed me the desk without a name, was in case of visitors. Literacy classes were offered to local people who had not learned these skills through the State education system.
As I talked with the women after the service, they happily answered my questions, telling me that theirs was the only similar community between Belgium and America. We felt privileged to have found them and been so well received. The community consisted of some Irish, a lot of Americans, a lovely German girl the Baker and cake maker plus a young man from Poland whose family were shortly to join him. Volunteers were being recruited for the family's forth-coming arrival, to make short work of the unloading and settling in.
I inquired as to how much contact they had outside their own group, and was told that it was mostly through the shop and market, though the wife who later entertained us for lunch, also did some cleaning locally. My greatest concern was for the well -being of anyone who should wish to live outside the community at a later a date, particularly if for example they wished to study at University.
We were invited to join a family for lunch, or alternatively they would happily prepare us food to take with us. We gratefully accepted the opportunity to return to the home of an American Botanist, and his Irish-born wife, stepdaughter and mother-in-law. I enjoyed the home-grown food, which had been prepared in sufficient quantities so that unexpected guests could be catered for and the carrot cake was to die for. Our host had written a large quantity of books, particularly on health issues, such as the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. He suggested to me to that if I wanted my husband to live longer, I should cut out the fried breakfasts, and I reluctantly admitted that any fry-ups were of his own making! The authority of the man at home and in the Church was evident in a number of small ways.
Whilst not intending to embrace this life-style, I felt I could learn something from my visit. Firstly, the simplicity in which these people lived and worshipped. There was a complete absence of designer labels or ostentation in their dress.
Secondly, every member found rewarding employment within the group, often of a manual nature, such as the wonderful wooden decking and outside eating area at our host's home.
Thirdly, I was told that the community offered a sense of security particularly for the children and young women, who probably outnumbered the men by at least two-to-one. It seemed to me that these women supported those who were raising children of their own and both groups benefited.
Happily, our host did not believe that only Mennonites would populate Heaven and we enjoyed our time of fellowship in a very different Christian culture. Their simple lifestyle, creativity and craftsmanship, together with their sense of peace impressed my husband. For myself, I see them as raising the Church's awareness to some possible alternatives, particularly in living a simpler, more sustainable and socially supportive life-style.
I live in the UK, and attend an evangelical Church of England, where I am training as a Reader, (lay preacher). I support the work of a Christian Healing Centre, and enjoy writing, particularly poetry.
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